Chapter 2 (London)

(three months prior)

September 17th, 

This morning the Captain received a message on his mobile:

Arthur Gram,

Your presence is requested at the Long Horn Arms the morning of September 17th at 9am. Your cooperation is appreciated.

 

Lorenz Murikai

Murikai made his money building casinos. He operates out of Hong Kong.

Gram asked me to meet him in front of the newsagent across from my flat. Outside on the street I saw a black cab speeding towards me. The door swung open and Gram told me to get in.

In the morning light the city looked abandoned. The streets smelled like piss.

In the far corner of the Long Horn Arms sat an older Chinese gentleman in a gray suit. He waved the Captain to his table. As we sat down he turned to Gram.

“I would prefer that we speak alone.”

“Lewis, wait outside,” said the Captain.

I bought a pack of Gallos at the bar and left the pub. Eventually the Captain came and got me. In the cab back to Hammersmith, Gram called his friend Tom.

Tom grew up in Baltimore a few years after the great fire. He spent his childhood exploring abandoned buildings and teaching himself engineering from old machine manuals.

He said he would be in London in two days.

Chapter 3 (London)

September 21st,

This morning the Captain received a message on his mobile:

Arthur my cabbage,

I am sorry that it’s taken my two days to get back to you. I’ve been up to my armpits in work and haven’t had a moment’s rest in decades. Let’s play, I’ll be in London in 3 days.

I wanna smash your face into a jelly.


Peoria.

Tom’s been crashing in the F. Scott, since he arrived in London, staying up all night drinking and playing cards with the Captain. They share a mutual love for extra dry Gin and Texas hold ‘em.

Today the Captain asked me to research something called the Koi of Hungwa at the British Museum.

Chapter 4 (at the Pub)

September 22nd

The Captain was telling me how when you’re playing pool there’s this zone you get in, when you’ve had about 3 beers and you nail every shot. One more beer and you’re ruined, but if you stay in this zone for as long as you can, you’ll run the table. Tonight, he ran the table.

He was playing pool against this guy Scotty, who always hangs out in the pub with his crew of thugs. They all have shaved heads and dress like cowboys. Gram calls them the Yul Brynners.

The rules were simple. If Gram won, he got a case of bourbon Scotty stole from a cabstand earlier that day. If Scotty won, he got the Captain’s coat, an old military jacket that originally belonged to his great great grandfather. Gram loves that coat more than anything in the world. I have a hard time believing he would let Scotty walk out with it.

Gram got two balls in at the break. He was 3 beers deep and said he felt like ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson himself was controlling his hand. The whole time Scotty breathed over him with his stained teeth and his cracked skin. Gram winked at one of the Yuls and sunk the eight ball. He grabbed the case of bourbon and we left.

Chapter 5 (on the F. Scott)

September 23rd

I woke up on the floor of the control room. Tom was passed out on the couch with his hat over his eyes. Jimi Hendrix ‘Are You Experienced’ original release from 1967 was skipping on the record player. We were up late last night drinking the Captain’s new bourbon.

Gram made coffee while Tom updated him on the F. Scott’s new software. The Mechanical Gills were in bad shape. Years of neglect had left them useless. Tom needed two weeks to take the system apart and replace everything. Gram turned to me.

“Show him what you found at the museum,” said the Captain.

I walked over to Tom and handed him my notes.

The Koi of Hungwa was originally built in Beijing, China in 1419 during the height of the Ming Dynasty. The Emperor Zhu Di had a vision in his sleep. One night the Sea came to him in his chamber and whispered in his ear.

“Take my eyes and build for me a fish that will control the tides of the ocean, the wind that blows the sails and the waves that break upon the shore. Do this and you alone shall be my master and I will do your bidding.”

The following morning Zheng He, the admiral of the Chinese Navy returned home from his voyage to the other side of the world. Among the many treasures he presented before the court were two stones, each the size of a walnut, smooth as silk and dark as the bottom of the ocean. He called them the Eyes of the Sea. Zhu Di saw these two stones as a sign. He ordered his generals to find the greatest metal smiths in the land and bring them to the Forbidden City.

A year later the Koi of Hungwa was presented to the court. The two dark stones were secured in place as the eyes. The Sea kept its promise. Any command the Emperor whispered to the Koi came to be. Enemy ships were destroyed by waves the size of mountains, while no ship from the Empire encountered another storm at sea. Zhu Di crushed his opponents effortlessly and for five years he was Emperor of the World.

In 1424, Zhu Di died. The Mandarins took control of the Forbidden City and ordered the destruction of the Koi of Hungwa. It was believed that Zheng He himself fled with the fish to Constantinople, where he remained under the protection of the Byzantine Emperor until 1453, when the city was conquered by Mehmet II, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

“Tom, I need you to stay here and fix the Gills. Lewis, you and I are going to Istanbul.”

Chapter 6 (Kensington)

September 24th

Tom and I spent all day at the junkyard behind Paddington Station salvaging machine parts while Gram and Peoria were out drinking. We caught up with them later.

A little after eleven, the four of us stumbled out of the pub and walked up to High Street Kensington. I saw a lanky figure standing in the shadows. I realized we were being followed, so turned around. Standing behind me was one of the Yuls. He punched me in the mouth and I fell to my knees. I heard six pairs of cowboy boots run up and surround us on all sides. I tried to stand but another fist knocked me back down.

Suddenly I heard a crack, like a thunderbolt. I looked up and saw Peoria standing over one of the Yuls, holding a piece of slate from the sidewalk. He was laying face down, his cowboy hat soaked in blood.

“God damn Peoria!” said the Captain. “You split his head open.”
“What? Too aggressive for you Gram?” she said with a smile.

“Nah…not at all.”

The rest of the Yuls ran off. The Captain helped me up and we made our way back to the sub.

Chapter 7 (Paris)

September 26th

We hired a man to drive us through the old train tunnel under the English Channel into France. From there we hitched a ride to Paris and arrived in the late afternoon.

September 27th

12:08 pm

Our train was delayed for twenty minutes. A man pulled a gun on the conductor and there was a standoff with three soldiers. The man was disarmed and beaten within an inch of his life. Now we are ready to leave.

8:35 pm

We are stopped in Munich while they check everyone’s papers. This is my first time in Soviet territory. I’ve spent the past hour gazing out the window at the empty, burned out landscape.

The Captain is occupying the two seats in front of me. I am able to peer between the seats and see what he is reading. It’s a letter.

Arthur,

I’ve been thinking about you. I need to decide how much time I will allow myself to spend thinking about you, because at this point it takes up my entire day. I can’t wait to be with you again and we will drink wine and eat oysters and you will play with the folds in my dress and I will run my fingers across your eyelashes.

No one mattered before you.

 

 

 

 

Naomi

Chapter 8 (on the train)

September 28th

2:45 am

Just after we crossed into Hungry, the train stopped. Everyone sat up and looked at each other with nervous eyes. I heard the Captain say “mother fucker” under his breath. Outside there were a dozen figures in the darkness, holding machine guns.

A shot rang out and a woman started screaming. Two figures in black coats and gas masks entered the train. They both had machine guns and were pulling luggage down from the racks above the seats. One started going through the suitcases while the other went passenger-to-passenger collecting wallets and jewelry. When he came to the Captain he muttered something in Russian. The Captain did nothing.

“He wants your coat,” the man next to us said.

“He’s not getting my coat,” said the Captain.

This message was relayed to the man in the gas mask, who then took the blunt end of his gun and slammed it across Gram’s face. He asked again for the coat and the Gram shook his head. The Captain’s hand was in his right pocket. He was going for his knife.

Another man, wearing goggles and a respirator, walked up and pushed the man in the gas mask to the side.

“Are you American?” the man said.

“Yes.”

“Why are you here?”

“I came to fight the Chinese.”

“Do you have any money?”

“No. I spent everything I had on my train ticket.”

The man nodded his head and walked back to the front of the train. The other two men followed him.

5:04 am

The Captain and I are sitting in a basement bar, across from the Hungarian Parliament. This is where all the hookers go after work and there are never any soldiers there. We sat there silently getting drunk.

Chapter 9 (Budapest)

September 29th

10:45am

I knocked on the Captain’s door and eventually he answered. The girl he picked up at the bar was gone. The floor of the hallway was sticky and covered in little baggies and cigarette butts. There was a guy pissing in the corner by the elevator. Last night a different guy was in that same corner masturbating.

11:21am

We walked across the bridge into the Pest part of the city. Russian soldiers lined the street, smoking and talking to each other. Some of them were kicking around a football with local children. An old woman holding a tray of espresso gestured for us to come have breakfast in her café. My stomach was growling.

Gram knew what to order. We ate steak sandwiches with korozotto cheese, kolbaz sausages, black pudding, sliced beef tongue, liver pate and honey strudel. I thought I was going to burst. At the end of the meal, the old woman brought us each a shot of her homemade plum brandy.

2:05pm

Our train today was much larger than the one from yesterday. It was seven stories tall and over 100 feet across. The track was a long concrete canyon stretching for miles. Outside the window the landscape was barren, stripped of all trees and grass, the way I’ve heard Gram describe west Texas. Forty miles outside of Sophia, Bulgaria we passed the wreckage of a train that derailed 3 years ago, killing hundreds of passengers. You could see the light from the fires of the people living in the scattered wreckage of the train cars.
Back in the ‘80’s Captain Gram ran cargo for the USSR. He knows a little Russian and can maneuver in and out of Soviet territory with ease. This affiliation with Russia makes him an enemy of China. Sides don’t matter to him, the Russians pay better.

6:53pm

We were 10 miles outside Budakdoganca, on the border of Bulgaria and Turkey and I was feeling anxious. I bummed a cigarette from a fellow passenger and went up to the observation deck to smoke it. My heart started racing when I saw a long concrete wall lined with gun turrets and Chinese soldiers in the distance.

Chapter 10 (Istanbul)

8:07pm

I handed the customs agent my fake British Passport. He took one look at me and called a group of soldiers over. I was strip searched and interrogated before I was allowed to enter Turkey.

11:12pm

Our cab dropped us off in front of Topkapi Palace in old Istanbul. The palace looked abandoned. All the windows were boarded up with plywood and covered in graffiti. I could see the Hagia Sophia rising up from the murky water like a great stone mountain. It was late and we needed a place to stay. The only thing open was a bar called Woody’s.

Inside there were five guys sitting at a table in the back smoking hookahs and drinking. Gram ordered two beers at the bar.

“I’m not serving him,” said the bartender as he glanced at me.

“He’s ok” said Gram and slipped the man twenty dollars.

One of the men from the back table bumped into me on his way to refill his pitcher. He turned around and said something to me I didn’t understand.

“Sorry man but I don’t speak Turkish,” I said.

He got in my face and said it again. Droplets of spit hit my cheek. Another man at the table, much bigger than the first, stood up.

“Excuse my friend, he is drunk….come smoke with us.”

We walked over to the table and sat down. The man shook my hand and told me his name was Iseri. His clothes were torn and greasy. I could hear his chest rattle as he took a long pull from the hookah.

2:01am

After last call we left the bar and broke into an abandoned house down the street. The house was cold and dirty. The floor was lined with torn cushions and Persian rugs. Each of the men from the table passed around a needle and took turns shooting up. Iseri, Gram and I sat in the corner talking about history and religion. Gram asked Iseri if he had ever heard of the Koi of Hungwa.

Chapter 11 (on the roof)

5:51am

At dawn the call to prayer came blaring from the loud speakers of the Blue Mosque, waking me up. I looked around the room. Everyone was asleep. I went to the roof to smoke a cigarette. The morning was cold and I could smell the frost in the air. The Sun began to rise over the glass skyscrapers of New Istanbul. The bay was cluttered with tankers and fishing boats.

When I was a boy, my mom and I would break into buildings like this one, looking for a place to sleep. Sometimes I’d wake up and she’d be gone. I’d find her on the roof smoking cigarettes. She rolled them quickly and expertly with her long thin fingers. We lived like that for years, sleeping in strange places. We were never in one place for more than a night.

Days before she was murdered, my mother gave me a worn out piece of paper covered in strange writing, that I keep folded up in my wallet. She told me one day a man would come looking for it and not to give it to him, no matter what.

Chapter 12 (The Grand Bazaar)

September 30th

10:34am

An hour later the rest of the men were awake, including Iseri and the Captain. We left the apartment we’d broken into the night before and walked to the Grand Bazaar. Iseri had to leave but said he would find us in the Bazaar later. Gram and I sat at a counter drinking apple tea while the rest of men picked pockets in the crowd. Earlier that morning we watched them rob and beat to death two Chinese businessmen.

Gram received a message on his mobile.

Arthur,

Thank you for updating me on your progress. I’ve dispatched an associate of mine, Alexander Grealish, to Europe, in order to expedite your mission. I’ve been informed that the two of you went to University together. He has your information and will contact you within the next few days.

L. Murikai

 “Son of a bitch,” said the Captain.

On the way back to the counter, the men came upon two teenagers kissing behind a tent. One of the men hit the boy over the head and started going through his pockets. Another grabbed the girl and threw her to the ground. He flipped her on her stomach and got on top of her. He got his pants down to his knees before Gram ran up and punched him in the face. The man spit out a mouth full of blood.

Two of the other men attacked the Captain while the third pulled out a knife and came after me. He threw me to the ground and held the knife to my throat. I could feel the point on my neck as I tried to fight back. Gram came up from behind and broke the man’s arm, knocking the knife to the ground. Then he grabbed my hand and helped me up. He looked at my neck.

“You’ll be alright bud. Let’s go.”

We fought our way through the crowd to the front of the Bazaar. We made it to the street and were stopped short by a column of Turkish soldiers at the end of the block holding machine guns.

“Oh shit,” said the Captain.

A homeless man with his face covered reached out a filthy hand and grabbed my wrist. I realized quickly it was Iseri.

“Come with me,” he said. We followed him around the corner and down an alley.   

“What’s going on? Why are there soldiers everywhere?” asked the Captain.

“This morning two business men from Hong Kong were found murdered. Those guards are looking for anyone suspicious.”

“Yeah, it was your chicken shit friends who killed those guys, we saw them do it.” said Gram.

“They are not my friends,” said Iseri. “I have been following them for weeks, hoping to find some information about my…well that is another matter. Now is not the time.”

Iseri became quiet and walked away. Gram caught up to him.

“Iseri do you remember last night when I was telling you about the thing Lewis and I are looking for? The metal Koi? Do you know anyone who could help us locate it or at least give us some information about it?”

Iseri stopped walking and began to rub his temples.

“There is a man who owns a store not far from here,” he said. “He is a collector of information. I will take you to him.”